It doesn’t take much to be convinced that golf is pretty healthy in the Coachella Valley these days.
All it takes is a drive through the desert, assuming you have the money to afford the gas for a pleasure ride. Drive past most public-access golf courses these days and you can see parking lots that, while not overflowing, are more packed than they were two or three years ago. If you can see part of the golf course, you might see three groups on a par-4, one on the green, one in the fairway and one waiting to tee off.
You can’t see it from a public street, but the same seems to be true at private courses. Many desert private clubs are reporting that play is up 10 or even 20 percent since before the pandemic hit basically two years ago this month.
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Better yet, the gloom and doom that seemed to envelop the game in the decade of the 2010s seems to be lifting. Consider that the National Golf Foundation reports that in every year since 2006, more golf courses have closed in the United States than opened. In part that was because of what the NGF calls the unsustainability of the boom in golf courses in the 1990s and into the early 2000s, and in part because the housing recession of the late 2000s caused many courses to shutter their gates.
While the trend continued in 2021, only 1 percent of the total golf courses in the country shut down. Compare that to 2019, the peak for closures in the last decade, when 2 percent of the courses in the country closed. One percent might not seem like a big difference, but when you are talking about 16,000 golf courses, that 1 percent of courses staying open rather than closing is huge.
But why, when the pandemic slowed everything down, has golf boomed?
Get outside instead of cooperated up
“The pandemic allowed people to rediscover outdoor activities a little bit, get away from the tablets,” said Ron Phipps, general manager at The Lakes Country Club in Palm Desert.
Phipps said his 27-hole club is back to 2014 golf levels, a time when golf was in the middle of its slide in terms of participation and rounds played.
That’s all great for the health of golf. But there is a downside to the boom, at least in the desert. Check out some of the popular tee time booking sites, and you’ll see some eye-popping numbers. Tee times of $200, a thing of the past from a few years ago, are back in full force now. The $150 tee times have become commonplace.
The laws of supply and demand say golf is supposed to be expensive in the Coachella Valley in March, when more tourists and more snowbirds are in the area. The rebirth of golf has added even more demand to that equation.
For all the issues golf had in the desert before the pandemic, the game was at least a little more affordable to the full-time desert resident. Yes, you can still find tee times for under $100 in the area, but you likely need to play mid-week, and you’ll need to book that tee time two or perhaps three days in advance.
For golf courses in the Coachella Valley, the peak season of March could go on forever, with plenty of demand putting higher value on tee times. But remember, even with stronger demand, prices will start to go down in a month or two at the most, because temperatures will head higher and fewer people will be wandering out to the course. Or at least if the same number of people are playing, they won’t be willing to pay the same price for a round of golf in triple-digit temperatures.
That’s when the residents of the desert who can’t or won’t pay $150 for a round of golf can comfortably get back on the course.
Larry Bohannan is The Desert Sun golf writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (760) 778-4633. Follow him on Facebook or on Twitter at @larry_bohannan. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Desert Sun.